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What is "Pre-Law"?


Pre-Law at Ohio State is not a major or minor but a collection of advisors and resources available to any/all students and alumni who are considering applying to law school and becoming an attorney.  Over the past 15 years the legal world has changed significantly which has led to law schools revising their approach to legal education.  While this has led to some changes in how candidates prepare for law school, the basics remain the same:

  • Planning an undergraduate course of study that will help you develop the skills necessary for the successful study of law,
  • Learning about the benefits of a legal education and the wide range of career paths available to lawyers,
  • Engaging in activities (extra-curricular, service, internships, employment) outside the classroom that will contribute to your personal and professional growth.

The pages on this site are intended to supplement, not supplant, the information you will receive from talking with one of our Pre-Law Advisors, by attending a pre-law workshop or law school presentation, or utilizing some other pre-law resource.  They should not be taken as comprehensive and not everything on these pages may apply to you.  Every student's path to law school is different; there is no "best" major, no required coursework, no expectation that students will attend law school within a specific time frame.  Your 1L (first year law) class will be a mix of students who went straight through college into law school, students who took a year or two off, and students who have worked in a different field for several years.  Some people attend law school part time while supporting a family, others take extra courses to earn both their Juris Doctorate (J.D.) and another graduate degree simultaneously.  Why someone decides to attend law school is different for each person - why should their path to get to law school be the same?

Read on for answers to some frequently asked questions or visit any of the links on the right hand side of this page to continue exploring.

What major should I choose to prepare for law school?

Anything!  Law schools do not require any specific major nor do they prefer one major over another so you're free to major in whatever you want!  While there is no one right way to prepare for law school, there are some wrong ways; doing the bare minimum to graduate is a sign you don't want to challenge yourself while a really low GPA is usually a barrier to admission.  There are three guiding principles every student should consider when choosing a major:

  1. Pick a major that you want.  If you pick a major because it's what you think law schools want, even though it doesn't really interest you, you will not be as engaged or as successful as you could be in a major that you love.
  2. Pick a course of study that will challenge you.  Law schools do not like to see students doing the minimum - they expect to see competitive students pushing themselves as much as possible.  Whether that's an honors degree, a double-major, a major and a minor, or a lot of upper-level elective courses, push yourself as far as you can go in college - everyone else who is a competitive candidate to law school will be doing the same.
  3. Pick a course of study in which you will succeed and excel.  You can pick the most challenging major you can think of, whether that's Neuroscience or Jazz Studies or something in-between, but if that means you're destined to only get 'C's and 'D's, that's not helpful.  The balance between challenging and successful is different for each student - don't pick your major or other courses just because a friend did, make sure it's the best fit for you.

Are there certain courses I should take?

There are no required courses to take in order to be a candidate for law school.  Unlike the knowledge-based approach to prepare for medical school which typically requires undergraduate coursework in biology, chemistry, etc., the preparation for law school is a skills-based approach, developing and honing skills including:

  • Reading comprehension - the ability to read, with understanding and insight, lengthy and complex materials*
  • Analytical reasoning - the ability to consider a group of facts and rules and determine what could or must be true*
  • Logical reasoning - the ability to analyze, critically evaluate, and complete arguments*

*as defined by the Law School Admission Council

There are numerous courses at Ohio State that will help you cultivate these skills, from literature to mathematics.  Once you've chosen your major you can work with your academic advisor and your pre-law advisor to figure out what skills you're more likely to develop naturally and what skills you may need to focus on.  If you're an Engineering student you will likely be solving lots of problems in your major - what courses might you take to strengthen your reading comprehension?  If you're an English major chances are you will have numerous opportunities to work on your reading comprehension - how might you strengthen your analytical reasoning skills?

Whatever major you choose and whatever courses you take along the way, remember that it takes time to truly develop the skills that law schools expect to see - it is not possible to "cram" right before you take the Law School Admission Test!

What about 'pre-law' majors?

A full course of study in college provides students with both a breadth and depth of knowledge.  The general education requirements, which typically cover a couple courses in in each of several different areas (natural sciences, social sciences, historical study, etc.) is the breadth.  By contrast a major is designed to give students a depth of experience in one field of study.  As there are no required courses for law school, "pre-law" majors are often a selection of courses across several different departments.  The courses themselves may be rigorous but the end result is a courseload that provides a breadth, not depth, of knowledge.  Furthermore, any legal concepts explored at the undergraduate level will rarely if ever be covered in a manner akin to how those same concepts are taught in law school.

There's no way to learn about law as an undergraduate?

In fact there is a way!  For those students interested in gaining an introduction to the legal world, the College of Arts and Sciences offers a minor in Legal Foundations of Society.  This multidisciplinary minor provides students with an exposure to the legal underpinnings of society from a liberal arts perspective.  It is intended for students interested in the intersection of legal and social issues.  It is not intended to be a "pre-law" program, but rather to be a means of providing a foundational understanding of the ways society constructs and uses its legal systems.

So the best academic pathway to law school is...

Study what you want, push yourself, and succeed.  How you do that is up to you!